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December 27, 2007


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Tom Newman

Excerpt of article in The Vancouver Sun newspaper of January 19, 2008:


During the year ending Sept. 30, 2006, GiveMeaning received $234,643 in donations for which it gave tax receipts, according to a financial statement filed with Canada Revenue Agency. Tom Williams said these are largely donations from individuals.

It received another $730,350 from other registered charities. Williams said these donations were made specifically to pay GiveMeaning's overhead.

He refused to identify any of these donors. I found this strange: My sense is that, while some donors request anonymity, most registered charities or foundations publicly report where they are placing their money, not so much for recognition as for transparency.

More generally, I do not understand why certain undisclosed charities would give money to pay overhead for what is essentially a charitable conduit.

In the case of GiveMeaning, that overhead is disproportionately large. Of the $982,705 in total donations it received (and issued tax receipts for), GiveMeaning spent $666,070, or 68 per cent, on administrative expenses.

Those expenses included $199,043 for professional and consulting fees; $153,646 for salaries, wages and benefits; $28,433 for advertising and promotion; and $24,019 for travel.

I asked Williams whether he receives a salary. Well, yes, $90,000 per year. And his wife, country singer Jessie Farrell, who works part-time for the foundation "when she can," gets $30,000. So together they collect $120,000 per year, plus expenses.

After subtracting overhead costs, just over $300,000 was available for charitable purposes in 2006, but only $172,000 was actually given to charities (the remainder is still on the foundation's books). That $172,000 represents just 17.5 per cent of total donations.

But that's not the end of it. Many of the charities that receive money have their own overhead. So the net amount available for true charitable purposes is even less.

Williams insists that, whenever a person gives money for a particular charity, 100 per of that money gets to the named beneficiary. That may be true, but it does not mitigate the fact that the vast majority of the overall money collected during 2006 went to administration.

Williams says this was due largely to start-up costs: "Yes, we have spent more than we have given away. Just like any other start-up business, it takes time to get profitable," he said.

He said the financial return for the year ending Sept. 30, 2007, which is just now being filed, will show a greater percentage of overall donations going to charity. We shall see.

The Vancouver Sun January 19, 2008


Tom, thank you for the link. The article certainly raises significant questions.

Tom Williams

The writer of this article called me on Friday morning to let me know he was writing a piece in his Saturday editorial. Armed with our 2005 and 2006 annual reports we file with Canadian Revenue Agency, he recites publicly available numbers namely that we received $234,632 in tax-receipted donations (which are largely donations we received through our website for the projects on GiveMeaning.com) and another $730,350 from charitable foundations to pay GiveMeaning's administrative costs in
operating the website in Canada.

He specifically states that I "refused to identify any of these donors" when in fact, I offered for him to speak with some of
GiveMeaning Foundation's donors and yet he didn't take me up on this.

I find it odd that Baines appeared to rush to publish this article, calling me for the first time the day before the article was supposed to run.

Nevertheless, his main contention is that GiveMeaning Foundation has spent more money building the GiveMeaning brand and service than it has raised money for its projects. This is not only not in dispute but not surprising to anyone that knows anything about a start-up business. GiveMeaning launched its re-vamped website in late
September of 05. Prior to that, our web presence was in Beta and very little transactions flowed through. The numbers that Baines is reporting on is our first full year of collecting tax-receipted
donations in Canada for the GiveMeaning website. Given that our average donation through the website is about $40, our first-year tally of money raised for projects is not surprising. It's also not
surprising to anyone that understands the nature of a start-up that in the first few years of operation that start-up costs will exceed revenues. It took eBay eight years to make a profit.

Baines can't understand "why certain undisclosed charities would give money to pay overhead for what is essentially a charitable conduit."

Foundations are investing in GiveMeaning because they recognize that the GiveMeaning service is helping charities of all sizes make fundraising easier and less costly. By supporting our work at GiveMeaning, they are providing an infrastructure for all charities to use. He seems unaware that foundations regularly make grants to other
foundations for capacity and infrastructure costs.

Of course I draw a salary and yes, my wife works as a contractor for GiveMeaning. Baines seems to think that GiveMeaning should run without staff and expense and that it's wrong for charitable foundations to provide GiveMeaning with the financial resources to build its service, a service used by charities of all sizes.

Baines seems unable to draw distinction between money raised through the GiveMeaning.com website for projects and money raised separately from donors who support our admin costs. When he says "Williams insists that, whenever a person gives money for a particular charity,
100 per of that money gets to the named beneficiary. That may be true, but it does not mitigate the fact that the vast majority of the overall money collected during 2006 went to administration." By lumping together these two costs as one, he is ignoring the simple fact that the donors giving to our administrative costs are doing so specifically FOR our operating costs and that donors giving through the website for projects have 100% of their funds passed on
the Implementing Organization responsible for carrying-out that project.

It can't be laid out more clearly than what we have in our About Us section which reads "We charge nothing for donations collected online and even cover the credit card costs associated with each donation. We rely on the support of generous donors and advertisers to provide this service."

Baines leaves readers with his own judgement on what is or isn't philanthropy, passing judgement on a fantastic grassroots economic
development initiative out of Uganda which trains Ugandan people to build guitars and then sells those guitars in North America to create self-sustaining, economic development and on Wild ARC, which is the division of the BC SPCA that provides rehabilitation and care to injured animals. Baines doesn't think Sea Otters and poor Ugandan people fall into the class of "quality charities." He's entitled to his opinion but the whole point of GiveMeaning is to give grassroots
initiatives an opportunity to find their audiences as we believe that any charitable initiative deserves to have the opportunity to better find and connect with supporters who care about those causes.

Baines' final point sums it up nicely. He says that "we have a responsibility to scrutinize all charitable endeavours to ensure that we are getting decent value for our dollar." He clearly doesn't think
that GiveMeaning's service is needed, valuable or useful to the charities and donors we serve. And that spending money on a new way of fixing a big problem is not warranted. He's entitled to his opinion.


Thank you, Tom, for the counter-point.

hermeneutically careless nihility

Whatever the outcome, this bodes well for the standardization of the production of meaning, meaning which was formerly a shapeless extrusion expelled from characters formed in the mold of generosity, an excess hereafter to be known as the "return on giving" or ROG, which, due to the technological feats made possible by frictionless network interventions, can be recast, redistributed and resold for a very slight fee, in whose turn, such redistributions can be trimmed of their excess and further remolded, etc. This is a win-win situation, if you catch my drift.


Think of Social Capital Markets as a huge Store of Convenience. What could be more convenient than shopping for a gift opportunity by scanning down a list? Give money, get meaning and results. Repeat when you have a few more dollars, or need more meaning or results. As the stars or other rating on the list becomes more reliable, the giving is more impactful. As more enter the social capital marketplace, the overhead for infrastructure is amortized over more and more transactions. Eventually the cost per dollar given becomes negligible. Then, having perfected the social capital markets, the infrastructure builders can move on to the next inefficient market, which could be crematoria, or burial urns, as the Boomers age.

haldol charisma nascent

With the queues kept orderly repeating Howard's aphorisms.


Better than hiring a Deputy Editor to keep them in line.

Here's a Confused Nicomachean

Something better than something worse is undeniably something worse than something better.

If something better than something better than something worse is not overreaching, and the first instance of something better than something worse is not truly the intermediate position but akin to the worst, then something better than something better than something worse is undeniably the intermediate position, an oversight that arises because, under the current conditions, one is not allowed to imagine something better than something better than something better than something worse, so the mean can never be recognized, due a prohibition on thinking and speaking what has come to be marked as unimaginable.


You can think with that brain after all that non-sense?


Well, as you say, Confused, it could be worse.

Hardcore Commie Nutcase

I think the gist is that a one-sided invocation of 'civil society' against state coercion as personified as the deputy editor receives some treatement here, in Ellen Wood's "The Uses and Abuses of Civil Society.

Money quote:

'Civil society' constitutes not only a wholly new relation between 'public' and 'private' but more precisely a wholly new 'private' realm, with a distinctive 'public' presence and oppressions of its own, a unique structure of power and domination, and a ruthless systemic logic. It represents a particular network of social relations which does not simply stand in opposition to the coercive, 'policing' and 'administrative' functions of the state but represents the relocation of these functions, a new division of labour between the 'public' sphere of the state and the 'private' sphere of capitalist property and the imperatives of the market, in which appropriation, exploitation and domination are detached from public authority and social responsibility. 'Civil society' has given private property and its possessors a command over people and their daily lives, a power accountable to no one, which many an old tyrannical state would have envied.


What tends to disappear from view, again, is the relations of exploitation and domination which irreducibly constitute civil society, not just as some alien and correctible disorder but as its very essence, the particular structure of domination and coercion that is specific to capitalism as a systemic totality.


Thanks, Commie Nutcase, I did read the article. Civil society is used by some people to include the market and by some people to stand in opposition to the market. Let's say there are three sectors, gummint, bidnis, and civil society. By civil society you might mean organized nonprofits and big foundations. There you could maybe find exploitation and domination. But what if you see civil society as the space out back, behind the building, a kind of no man's land, outside gummint control, outside of work, outside of the mall, where we as human beings or citizens meet in informal groups to talk, think, interact, and form volunatary associations for our own purposes. As we do here in the Dumpster. That is what draws me to civil society, not big foundations or nonprofits, but freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the formation of a public identity in community with others for purposes that transcend making a living, or a purchase, or even that of making a gift. That hunger for a personal but also public life outside the dominion and control of business and government is not easily appeased, though it is often co-opted, as in Facebook and other online communities that are essentially private property wrappers around social networks. To constantly press at the limits of these wrappers, and puncture them, to see if we can exist on our own, not as pawns in another's game, nor seeking to make others our pawns, seems to me an essential impulse, a thirst that is unquenchable.

Do you see things this way?

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